Horse Racing

borel derby, super saver borel, borel 2010 kentucky derby, borel celebration
Darron Cummings/AP
Borel rides Super Saver to victory in the
Kentucky Derby.

Calvin Borel Rises From Louisiana Bush Tracks to Pinnacle of Horse Racing

May 01, 2010 07:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
Calvin Borel, who began riding racehorses at age 8 and dropped out of eighth grade to become a jockey, today won the Kentucky Derby for the third time in four years.

Borel Wins Third Derby in Four Years

Calvin Borel rode Super Saver to win the Kentucky Derby today, the third time in four years that he's won horse racing’s most prestigious race. Borel, who also won last year’s Preakness Stakes, cemented his place as the most celebrated and sought-after jockey in America.

It hasn’t always been like that for the 43-year-old Borel, who has spent most of his 26-year racing career out of the spotlight. He won his first Grade I stakes race in 2006, and the following year he won the Kentucky Derby, a victory that earned him the admiration of President George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II.

With a thick Cajun accent, upbeat attitude and inspiring life story, Borel has become one of racing’s most popular figures. Though he is now something of a celebrity—he appeared last year on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno—and has made millions of dollars, Borel has maintained the humility and work ethic he’s shown his entire career.

He still helps his brother Cecil, a Kentucky-based trainer, clean stalls, something he’s done for 30 years. He has also taken little time off to celebrate major victories; the day after last year's Preakness win, he returned to Churchill Downs and won a $7,500 claiming race. “These are the horses that got me here,” he said to The Associated Press.

Borel is so likeable that he's even able to switch from mount to mount without offending his clients. After winning last year's Kentucky Derby on 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird, Borel chose to ride super filly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness Stakes, and the filly won, with Mine That Bird finishing second. Nonetheless, the connections of Mine That Bird gave the mount back to Borel when he was again available to ride.

Biography: Calvin Borel

Borel was raised on a sugarcane farm in Martin Parish, La., in the heart of Cajun country. The youngest of five children, Calvin was born 12 years after the fourth child and given the nickname “Boo-Boo” because his conception was unintended.

His father, Clovis, and brothers trained and raced quarter horses on the Louisiana bush tracks, and Calvin began riding in races when he was 8. “I wanted to ride,” he said to Louisiana Life magazine. “I knew from day one, maybe when I was 4 or 5. I wanted to be a jockey.”

He dropped out of eighth grade to move in with his brother Cecil, who was working as a trainer at Delta Downs. Borel still doesn’t read or write well, but—contrary to a 2007 article in the Daily Racing Form—he is not illiterate, according the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Calvin did stable work for his brother, who was like a “second dad” according to Calvin, and became a professional jockey at the age of 16. Soon after, however, his riding career nearly ended during a race at Evangeline Downs, when his horse, Miss Touchdown, crashed into a post sent Calvin flying, describes ESPN. He suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung, a damaged spleen, and was left in a coma. He recovered, and in his first race back he rode Miss Touchdown to a win.

Cecil also taught Calvin the strategy that he is now famous for. After Calvin lost a race making a wide move, Cecil told him to walk the horse around the barn. As Calvin circled, Cecil lined up barrels, forcing Calvin to make wider turns; Cecil then told him that the shortest trip around the track is on the inside. Since then, Calvin has always tried to ride his mounts near the rail, earning him the nickname “Calvin Bo-rail.”

Borel moved on to race at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park and Kentucky’s Churchill Downs. In 1995 he was the top jockey at Oaklawn, unseating Hall of Famer Pat Day, who had won every meet since 1982. He remained under the radar until 2006 when he rode Street Sense to a 10-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The following spring he guided Street Sense to victory at the Kentucky Derby and became an instant celebrity.

His victory earned him an invitation to a White House dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth II, who had attended the Derby. “I shook hands with the president and the queen,” he told Louisiana Life. “They both congratulated me and wished me success. I went to shake his hand after and he gave me a hug. It was a great, great honor.”

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